Monday, February 5, 2018

On Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Last night, NBC aired a special episode of This Is Us after the Super Bowl. (If any fans of the show reading this have not yet viewed that episode, stop now. This post has spoilers.) It was a real tear-jerker, finally revealing how Jack Pearson died and how his widow and each of his three children are still dealing with their loss twenty years later. It resonated for me because Collin and I are also dealing with loss. Twenty-seven years ago last Monday, my dad died. In October, it will be twenty years since my mom passed away.
 Mom in happier days.

Twenty years after his death, Jack Pearson's family is still grieving, each in their own way. Rebecca, now married to Jack's best friend, has an annual ritual on Super Bowl Sunday. Her new husband respects it and, as he puts it, gives her space. She makes Jack's favorite lasagna and eats it while watching the Super Bowl alone. Kevin goes off alone to a special place and talks to his dad, pouring his heart out, vowing to do better in his own messed-up life, to beat the demons he shares with his late father. Kate watches a video Jack made for her while trying to help her gain the confidence she needed to pursue a future as a singer. In the video, she sees the reflection of her dad peeking through her bedroom door with his videorecorder, and it brings tears to her eyes. She blames herself for his death, because he went back to save her dog--which probably explains why it was so difficult for her to accept another dog in her life. Randall tries hard not to grieve. He celebrates his father's love of the Super Bowl, insisting upon watching the game with his kids  every year--even though the kids really don't care about the Super Bowl. This year, a seemingly unrelated incident--the escape and accidental death of the kids' lizard--has an unexpected effect on him.

I don't have many photos of Dad. 
He didn't like having his picture taken for some reason.

I can relate. When my dad passed away after what should have been a routine surgery--really, no surgery is "routine," but Dad had surgery two months earlier and this was supposed to be a sort of follow-up operation--it affected Mom, Collin and me in very different ways. For one thing, we were all blindsided by it--he'd come through the surgery with no complications, or so we thought. Even after the heart attack, when he was moved from his room to the cardiac intensive care unit, he seemed fine. He was laughing, talking with us, eating. That was Saturday. By Sunday night, he was on a respirator. By Tuesday night, he was gone.

Mom was depressed. She never really got through that. She seemed to have just given up. She went through the motions of living but was never quite there. Collin seemed okay on the surface, but his manner of dealing with things was to not deal with them. I was consumed by guilt. I wasn't sure I even had a right to grieve.

Dad and I had a complicated relationship. As a child, I was definitely Daddy's Girl. We were close. But as I got older and started to think for myself and not always agree with him, he didn't know how to deal with me. He'd come from a less than idyllic childhood that left him with control issues, a demon I inherited. Mom used to say we were always butting heads because we were so much alike--and she was the referee. Dad and I had unfinished business. And I believed that my success as a novelist made him feel unneeded. Before that, we were all dependent upon him for just about everything. 

That was the beginning of a very long, very painful writer's block. It would be another seventeen years before I would finish and publish another novel.

When Mom passed seven years later, Collin and I knew it was coming but it still hit us both hard. The first stroke came in February 1996. I knew the warning signs of stroke, but even when I saw them, I convinced myself that it wasn't any big deal. She'd slept on her arm. That's why it was numb. If I hadn't been in denial, Mom could have had a very different outcome. If she'd listened to our family doctor, she could have had a different outcome. If the two sisters she adored had been there for her when I couldn't be there, she could have had a different outcome. If, if, if...she was gone, and there wouldn't be a do-over. I didn't want to believe I could lose my remaining parent. But I did. I carried on, because I had Collin to think of--though sometimes I think I needed him more than he needed me.

We still miss both of them. We talk about how much they would have loved big-screen TVs, cell phones (maybe), streaming channels, delivery services for just about everything, and we wonder what life will be like on earth after we're gone.

How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?